Now That You're Here - The College Years
Only another couple of miles and he’d be
there. That’s what Matt kept telling himself as he got closer and closer to
home. It had been a long ride, yet strangely enough the long part had nothing to
do with the five hours it took to get there. It had more to do with the five
hours of being alone and in his own head without any distractions. He wanted to
call Justin so many times, but what was he going to say? Even if he did find the
courage to talk to his best friend, it definitely wasn’t a conversation he
wanted to have on the phone while he was driving. And he still wasn’t sure if he
was going to talk to Justin. Was there even anything to say?
He’d spent the last five hours thinking about what David had told him. About Ricky and how sad it was that he took his own life rather than let his family know he was gay. He even understood why David would be worried about him. He had to admit, even just to himself, that David thinking that he might be gay wasn’t that much of a stretch. Regardless of whether Matt was gay, he had kissed David that night of the party. They had kissed quite a bit. Something like that could, and obviously had, given David the wrong impression. But he wasn’t gay. He couldn’t be gay. And he was sure that kissing another guy didn’t just automatically make him gay.
He once read somewhere that if a person was struggling with their sexuality that they should think of the future and try to picture who they saw by their side. He did that, and in his future, he becomes a cop, marries a woman and has two children; maybe three if his wife is agreeable, but definitely two. Nowhere in that scenario is there room for a guy. It just couldn’t happen.
As he entered Brian and Justin’s development, he felt a sense of calm wash over him. What he needed most at that moment was to surround himself with friends. With Steve and Jason staying there, Brian and Justin living there, not to mention Zac being a permanent fixture wherever Jason was, he was sure that it would only be a matter of moments before he forgot all about David and his accusations. His mother hadn’t been happy when he told her that he’d be going right to Justin’s house and wouldn’t be home until late, but he couldn’t help it. It seemed like talking to his parents had become more of a chore in the last couple of months, probably due to his newfound independence. As much as he hated to admit it to himself, the only reason he found himself wanting to leave campus and head back to Arizona was Justin and the gang. Otherwise he would probably be having Thanksgiving in his dorm room. His cell phone brought him out of his thoughts. He knew who it was without looking.
“I’m two blocks away,” he laughed into his phone.
“Well, hurry up already,” Justin demanded.
Two minutes later, Matt pulled his truck up in front of the house. He laughed at the sight of Justin pacing in the driveway. He quickly turned off the engine and hopped out of the truck. Justin was at his side immediately.
“It’s about time you got here,” Justin said as he hugged Matt. “Sophia is getting ready for bed and I want you to meet her.”
“Alright, alright,” Matt laughed. “Jeez, Jus, it’s not like she won’t be here tomorrow. Or the rest of the weekend for that matter. I’m not going back until Sunday, remember?”
“I know but I just really want you to meet her. You know, after my parents died, I didn’t think I had any family; well, any family that I could actually count on. And as much as I love Chris and Brian, meeting Zander was awesome because he’s my real family. Now I have Sophia, too. It probably sounds corny but…”
Matt stopped him there, suddenly remembering that Justin had lost his family less than two years ago. “No, it doesn’t sound corny. Come on, I can’t wait to meet your cousin.”
Matt had fallen in love with Sophia instantly. She was a beautiful little girl who was thriving being surrounded by so much love. She seemed to take to Matt quickly, too. He received a goodnight kiss right along with everyone else. Once she was in bed, the guys spent some time hanging out in the living room. Chris and Zander were telling stories of all the mishaps since their house was overrun by a nine year old, with Steve jumping in whenever he had something to add. Jason was a little on the quiet side, but that had to be expected after what he had been through. Zac was there by his side, but he seemed more interested in watching Jason than participating in the conversation. And Brian and Justin were disgustingly happy as always, constantly finding a way to touch each other as often as possible. Matt was so happy to be home.
“So Matt, how are things with you?” Zander asked, pulling him from his thoughts.
“Things are good,” Matt replied, hating that the question immediately brought David to mind. He pushed those thoughts away. “I’m still trying to get used to Texas, though. Things seem…I don’t know…different there. The people seem different, I guess. Or maybe it just seems that way because it feels so weird being there. It used to be when people in school asked me where I lived, I would tell them the town or the development. Now I have to tell them the state. It’s just weird. I’ve lived in Arizona my entire life. Not being here just seems so unreal, if that makes any sense.”
“It makes perfect sense. Trust me, I get it. I went from Pittsburgh to Massachusetts to Arizona. I sometimes forgot where I was,” Zan laughed.
“Yeah, you should’ve seen the look on people’s faces when I told them I was from Arizona at Princeton. I don’t have any personal experience of an east coast winter, but it must get pretty bad there. Everyone seemed to think I was crazy leaving sunny Arizona for New Jersey,” Steve added. “Although nothing can beat the beaches there.”
“Trust me; east coast winters can be torturous. A couple of winters ago we had back to back blizzards there. Six days apart. I never thought I’d get done shoveling. They were measuring our snow in feet, not inches,” Justin said. “Remember, Jas?”
“How could I forget? We made a fortune that season shoveling driveways,” Jason smiled as he replayed the time in his mind. “We were getting a hundred a house.”
“You guys actually used to go around and shovel people’s driveways?” Steve asked looking shocked.
“Are you kidding? That’s the way us east coast boys made money,” Justin replied.
“I could use some snow around here right about now,” Steve teased. “My savings account has taken a serious hit lately.”
“Trust me,” Zander replied. “It’s not worth the money. I miss a lot of things about living in Pittsburgh, but the cold is definitely not one of them.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Steve admitted.
“I’m pretty sure Zac wouldn’t know what to do if Arizona suddenly had a snowstorm. Last year he refused to come visit me in the winter,” Jason said as he smiled at Zac. “And when I suggested we fly back east to see my parents for Christmas instead of making them come here, I believe his words were…only if we’re celebrating Christmas in July.”
Everyone laughed, causing Zac to blush. “Hey, I don’t like being cold. Chattering teeth and blue lips are not attractive.” That just caused everyone to laugh harder.
Time passed quickly and before anyone knew it, it was almost one in the morning. Zan groaned as he and Chris said goodnight. He had to be up early to start cooking. Steve said his goodnights next and then headed upstairs, while Jason talked Zac into spending the night. Soon it was just Brian, Justin and Matt left.
“Well, I’m out of here,” Matt said as he stood.
“Sure you don’t just want to crash here instead of driving home?” Brian offered. “We have a pull out couch down in our little ‘basement hide-a-way’.”
“As appealing as it sounds to be sharing a room with you lovebirds, I think I’ll pass,” Matt laughed.
“Why? I’ll put a pillow over Justin’s head so you don’t hear his moans,” Brian replied.
“Brian!” Justin exclaimed as he smacked Brian’s arm.
Matt laughed harder than he had in ages, probably at how quickly Justin turned beet red. “No, that’s okay. I wouldn’t want to risk him being smothered. Besides, I’m not going that far. My house is only a few miles away. If I was driving back to El Paso, you’d have a roommate.”
“Okay, just be careful. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Brian said before turning to Justin and giving him a kiss. “I’ll be downstairs.”
“Alright, I’ll be there in a few. I’m just going to walk Matt out and then lock up.”
Justin followed Matt outside and to his truck, anxious to get him alone. As soon as they stopped walking, Justin looked at his friend.
“Are you alright?”
“Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be?” Matt replied, hating the lie.
“Matt, why won’t you talk to me? I know something’s been bothering you for awhile now. You even admitted to me that you were dealing with something, remember? And I’ve tried to give you your space. I’ve even tried not to take it personally that you won’t talk to me about it, but as more time goes by and you become more and more withdrawn, I’m starting to really worry.”
“Please, Matt; just tell me what it is. Maybe I can help you,” Justin said.
Matt had another lie on the tip of his tongue, but he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t bring himself to pretend he was okay when he wasn’t. “You can’t help, alright? Yes, I’ve got a lot going on and I’m about ready to lose my mind, but I just can’t talk about it. And before you say another word, it has nothing to do with you. You’re my best friend and I wish to God I could tell you, but…I just can’t. Please don’t push this.”
Justin looked at Matt and saw tears in his eyes, taking his worry up quite a few notches. “Matt, whatever it is, you can talk to me. I promise not to tell anyone anything you say, not even Brian. Look at you. You’re a mess. Talking about it might help.”
Matt could feel himself giving in. Maybe talking to Justin would help. “Um…maybe tomorrow we can talk. Or Friday. It’s late and we’re standing out here in the street…and I don’t think I’d feel comfortable talking about it inside with everyone right there.”
Justin knew what he had to do. There was no way he was going to let Matt go home without talking. He had no intention of letting Matt change his mind during the light of day. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. Brian answered right away.
“Did you get lost?”
“No, listen, Bri. Matt and I are taking a drive. Go to sleep and I’ll come in quietly when I get home,” Justin said as he watched Matt closely.
“Is everything alright?” Brian asked, suddenly worried.
“Yeah, everything’s fine. We just need to talk a bit. That’s okay, right?”
“Of course it is,” Brian chuckled. “I was just a little worried. Go, be a good friend. And don’t come in quietly. I wouldn’t be opposed to being woken up by a blow job.”
“You’re insatiable,” Justin laughed. “I’ll see you in a bit.”
“Love you, too.”
As soon as Justin stuffed his phone in his pocket, he grabbed Matt’s keys out of his hand. “I’ll drive.”
Matt was too tired to argue. He just went around to the passenger side and got in. Nothing was said between them while Justin drove to the river. After parking, the two of them got out and went over to the picnic area, taking a seat on one of the tables. The lighting wasn’t the greatest, but they did have spotlights throughout the area, giving them the ability to see enough to get by.
“Look, it’s really not a big deal,” Matt said, still clinging to his secret. “I’m not…it’s not like I’m going to do anything stupid. I’m just…I feel like…” and then the tears returned.
“Matt, talk to me,” Justin pleaded. “Obviously whatever is going on with you has you really upset. Let me help. Or if I can’t help, let me at least be here for you.”
“I don’t know if I can. You, of all people, wouldn’t understand.”
“What? Why wouldn’t I understand? And what does it matter if I understand. Whatever it is you’re going through, I don’t have to understand it. I just have to be here for you because that’s what friends do.”
Matt sighed as he struggled to find the words to say what was on his mind. He sat there with his arms resting in his knees and his eyes facing forward to avoid looking at Justin. He could feel the dampness on his cheeks as he prepared to tell Justin something that he’d never wanted to share with another human being. “I think I might be gay,” he finally whispered.
It took everything in Justin’s power not to jump up and react to Matt’s admission. Not because he had a problem with what he’d just heard, obviously, but because out of everybody Justin knew, Matt would’ve been the last person in the world Justin would’ve suspected of being gay. But he knew by the anguish that Matt was feeling, he had to handle the conversation very delicately.
“Okay…um, why don’t you tell me why you think that?” he asked gently.
“I don’t know where to begin. Should I start with the attraction I’ve had to guys since I was twelve, my lack of attraction to anyone in a skirt or just jump right into the guy I can’t seem to stop kissing?” Matt barked sarcastically. His sarcasm was misdirected, but he couldn’t help it.
“I’m sorry,” Justin said softly.
“No, I’m sorry,” Matt sighed. “I didn’t mean to snap at you. I’m just not handling this very well, you know? I mean…I can’t be gay. I just can’t be.”
“Matt, you know that being gay isn’t something you can control, right? I mean, out of our little circle of friends, three of us are gay and two are bisexual. You have to know that being gay isn’t a choice.”
“No…I know that…but I can’t…” he stopped for a moment, trying to put his thoughts together. “I know that it’s not a choice who you are. But it can be a choice on what you do about it. You, Brian and Dane are choosing to live as gay men. Zac and Jason are choosing to share their lives with each other at the moment, but could eventually end up with women if they don’t make it together. There’s nothing stopping me from choosing to get married to a woman and live a normal life.”
“Please tell me you did not just say that,” Justin replied coolly.
“What?” Matt asked at Justin’s tone. He thought back over what he said and gasped. “I didn’t mean it like that. Come on, Jus, you know I have absolutely no problem with gay people. I don’t see anything wrong with same sex couples getting married and living just the same as straight couples.”
“No, there’s nothing wrong with it as long as you’re not one of the same sex couples,” Justin retorted.
Justin shook his head to rid himself of his thoughts. He’d promised to be there for his friend, not attack him. “I’m sorry. I guess I’m just a little sensitive when it comes to this subject. I know your views on gay people. I’m just not sure why you’re so against being one of them. I mean, if the way you feel…if you have an attraction to guys, why is it so wrong for you to act on it?”
“Jus, my life is already mapped out. I’m going to get my degree in Political Science, come home and join the police force, get married and have children. I can’t do anything to change that.”
“Matt, first of all, it’s your life. You can do anything you want to do. If you decided to become a drag queen and spend your nights shaking it at the clubs, that would be your choice. But there’s nothing keeping you from following your plans if you’re gay. Well, you can’t actually marry if you live in this state. God forbid this Arizona lets us have any kinds of rights, but you can fall in love and have children just like you’ve always wanted. You just have to make a few adjustments. Look at Chris and Zan. They couldn’t be any more married if they took vows in a Catholic Church. And they never chose to adopt, but that’s because between Brian, Sophia and me, they didn’t have to,” Justin pointed out.
“But they’re not cops. How would I even begin to be gay as a cop? I’d never be accepted. And knowing Arizona as I do, I wouldn’t be surprised if the police force has a don’t ask, don’t tell policy. I can’t imagine walking into the station with a rainbow flag on my uniform.”
“Okay, maybe Arizona isn’t necessarily the best place to be gay, but then you can go somewhere else? I mean, Brian and I talk about moving away all the time.”
“Yeah, we do. I’ve thought about going back to the east coast. I miss my seasons. And unless Arizona gets its act together, I’m not sure that as a gay man, I want to continue living here. But that’s not the point right now. The point is that you need to be true to yourself, no matter what it takes.”
“But if I come out, I’ll lose my family,” Matt said tearfully. “My father is not the kind of man to have a gay son.”
“You don’t know that for sure.”
“Yes, I do,” Matt replied. “Look, I’ve never told anyone this, but my dad wasn’t too happy when he found out I was hanging around so many, what he called, fags. He got better once I refused to stop seeing my friends and he got to know Brian and Dane a little bit. I never even told him about Zac. That probably would’ve made his head explode.”
“Trust me, Jus. He all but said that I’d better not turn up gay. I can’t lose my family, Justin. They may not be perfect, but they’re all I have.” The tears started once again.
“I’m so sorry, Matt. You shouldn’t have to go through this. No parent should make their child have to choose between being a part of the family or being themselves. But is there much of a choice? Look at how you’re dealing with all of this. Can you keep going on as you have been?”
“I don’t have a choice,” Matt cried. “And I would’ve been fine if it hadn’t been for David!”
“I’m going to assume he’s the guy you can’t seem to stop kissing,” Justin stated with a small smirk. In his experience, anyone who caused such a strong reaction caused it for a reason. “Why don’t you tell me about him?”
“He’s a senior at the University, probably around 21 or 22? I met him when a girl in my poli-sci class talked me into going to a party. It was at his house. I don’t know, we just seemed to hit it off immediately, you know? And it was so loud there that we decided to go for a walk so we could talk. There’s a small playground down the road from his house so we went there. When he kissed me…I’d had a few beers, but not enough to be intoxicated; just enough to make me want to enjoy him kissing me, so I kissed him back. I had a great time with him and never gave it a second thought until I woke up the next morning and remembered what had happened. I was horrified. I couldn’t believe I allowed myself to…I just…I was a mess. It took me two days to pull myself together and try to put it all behind me.”
“But apparently David had other ideas. He didn’t have my number, but he started asking around about me. Carefully, of course. We didn’t actually discuss my sexuality, but it was obvious that I wasn’t openly gay to him so he didn’t just start telling people what happened between us, thank God. Anyway, as it turns out, he used to date my RA. I started finding notes under my door. And sometimes I’d find him hanging around by my building. If I saw him, I usually tried to go the other way. I didn’t actually talk to him after that night until a couple of weeks ago. The night you and I were on the phone.”
“The guy who was there to borrow your notes,” Justin said. “You did seem kind of weird about him showing up.”
“Yeah. He completely surprised me. Up until that night he’d always been respectful of my privacy. I kind of yelled at him for showing up and told him that I wasn’t gay, but of course he didn’t believe me. He told me that he’d put his number in my phone the night of the party and to call him if I wanted to talk. And then the other day he slipped another note under my door asking me to come for dinner today. I wasn’t going to go, but then I got it in my head that I needed to go to tell him once again that I wasn’t gay.”
“And how did that go?”
“Not very well. Right after I got there I noticed some pictures of him and some other guy when they were in high school. The next thing I know he’s telling me about his friend Ricky who was so sure that he’d be disowned if he came out that he hung himself. Turns out his parents wouldn’t have had a problem if he had come out. It’s a sad situation…if he had been honest with his family, he’d still be alive. I get the message. But I don’t plan on killing myself. I’m not that stupid. I appreciate that he’s worried about me. I mean, that’s really sweet considering he hardly knows me, but I’m fine. I went to tell him once again that I’m not gay, but I guess he didn’t want to hear it because before I could finish my sentence, he kissed me.” Matt stopped there for a moment and hopped off the table, needing to do something other than sit still. “And I wish I could say that I pushed him away, insisted that I was straight and walked out the door.”
“But you didn’t.”
Matt sighed again, brushing away his tears. “No, I didn’t. I kissed him back…and kept kissing him back until he pulled away. God, what the hell is wrong with me? And the worst part is that when he walked me to the door, I not only promised I’d call him, but I kissed him goodbye. It was a quick kiss…nothing like when he kissed me…but still a kiss. And I initiated it. It was me that time, not him. God Justin, what am I going to do? I can’t be gay…I really can’t.”
Justin jumped off the table and went to Matt, taking him in his arms. He wasn’t surprised when Matt clung to him and finally let go of the little bit of composure he’d been holding onto. Learning to accept yourself for who you are is never easy, but trying to fight it was so much harder and poor Matt had been fighting it for so long with no one to talk to. Justin’s heart was breaking for his friend. He’d only wished that there was an easy fix, but he knew there wasn’t. As Matt held on and cried on his shoulder, Justin knew deep down inside that his friend still had a long way to go before anything got better.
Matt wasn’t sure how long he stood there crying on Justin’s shoulder before he was finally able to stop the tears. He had to pull himself together. He had to figure out what to do next. He took a step back and wiped away his tears as he looked at Justin. “What am I going to do?”
Justin thought about his response before opening his mouth. “Look Matt, I will be here for you and help you with any decisions you make, but please don’t ask me for advice on what you should do.”
“I’m sorry, Matt.”
“Fine, you want to know what I think you should do? I think you need to accept what you know about yourself, tell your parents and see what happens between you and David. I’m sorry if that’s not what you want to hear, but I won’t lie to you. I can’t honestly tell you that I think you should keep lying to yourself and everyone around you just so you don’t have to face the reality of who you are. I know how scary it is, but you’ll never be happy with your life as long as you have to keep hiding your true feelings.”
“But I don’t want to be gay,” Matt whispered. “I don’t want to have to think before I touch the person I love in public. I don’t want to have to wonder every time I meet someone new if they’re going to hate me once they find out that I’m gay. I don’t want to have to hide who I am. Why is this happening to me?”
“I don’t know, Matt. Genetics? But you’re already hiding who you are.”
“See, that’s the thing. I haven’t been. Up until David, none of this was an issue. I was able to ignore my attraction to guys and just live my life.”
“Maybe, but were you happy? I mean, be honest, Matt, have you really been happy up till now? When you thought about your future and settling down with a woman, what were you feeling? Excitement at the anticipation of finding someone special to share your life with or fear of having to live your life with someone you’ll likely have no interest in?” Justin gave Matt a few moments to think about what he said. “Look, I can’t make you do anything that you don’t want to do. All I can do is tell you that I will be here for you no matter what you decide. I’m not going to stop being your friend just because you make a decision that I don’t agree with. On the other hand, if you choose to be honest with yourself and be who you are, I promise that you won’t have to do it alone. I will be right by your side. And so will everyone else, for that matter. Coming out is never easy, but you have a support system that most people would kill for. You’ll never have to go through it alone.”
Matt took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. “I…I’ll have to think about…um…what I’m going to do next. I’m not sure…”
“Hey, it’s okay. There’s no time line on this. You have to do what feels right to you. Don’t let anyone, especially David; try to push you into something you’re not ready for.”
“Thanks Jus. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“No need to thank me. I’m just being a friend. I have no doubt that you’d do the same for me. Listen, it’s getting really late. You wanna come back and spend the night with us? Brian was only teasing. We so wouldn’t have sex with you in the room,” Justin laughed.
“Damn, and here I was hoping to get a repeat performance of the time I caught you guys in the bathroom,” Matt teased, suddenly feeling a little bit lighter after sharing his burden. “You know, I meant what I said before. Suicide isn’t my style. No matter how upset I am, I would never even think about taking my own life. You don’t have to babysit me.”
“It’s not babysitting. I’d really like to have you there. Come on, otherwise you’re just going to go home and think too much, and after your five hour drive, I think you’ve done enough thinking for one day.”
“Alright, fine. I’ll stay with you guys,” Matt conceded. “I gotta…uh…call David though. I promised him I would and…well…”
“Okay, you want to do it now? I could go take a walk or sit in the truck or something,” Justin offered. “Give you a little privacy.”
“I don’t really need privacy. You drive, I’ll talk.”
As soon as Justin started the truck, Matt made his call. David answered on the second ring.
“Hey, I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to hear from you,” David said sleepily.
“Sorry, I’ve been busy. Were you sleeping? I can let you go.”
“No, that’s okay. I wasn’t quite sleeping yet. So, how are you doing? Are you still freaking out?”
“Um…no…not really…not at the moment, anyway. I just spent the last hour talking to Justin about…things.”
“Justin, is he one of those gay best friends you were telling me about?” David asked. “I mean, the things you talked to him about…”
“Yes, you were on the list,” Matt chuckled softly.
“So, he knows about…I mean you told him that you were…that…”
“You’re very articulate tonight. Yes, I told him that I’ve been…confused lately. Listen, David, I’m still not sure what’s going to happen next, alright? I don’t know if I can…I just don’t know and I don’t want you to make assumptions about me.”
“I know. Look, Matt, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll try to back off and give you your space if you promise not to shut me out completely. I told you before that as much as I want you, and believe me I do, I’m more than willing to just be your friend.”
“Okay, you’ve got a deal,” Matt replied with a smile.
“Alright, I’m going to say goodnight while we’re on a high note. Just one thing before I hang up. Please tell me you enjoyed our kiss this afternoon. I’ve been stressing over it since you left. It was one thing to kiss you at the party. We didn’t know each other and I kind of thought you were gay, just still in the closet. Now that I know you’re…well, confused. I never should’ve done it. I was just…”
“David,” Matt said, stopping him. “It’s fine. I mean…it was good. Well, not good as in you can keep doing it, but today…it was okay.”
“So you did enjoy it,” David said teasingly.
“I’m going to say goodnight now.”
David chuckled. “Goodnight, Matt. Sleep well.”
As soon as Matt hung up, he turned to Justin and frowned. “I don’t know what to do. I really like him.”
“I guess all you can do is put him in the pro column and see what happens. You’ve got a lot to work through, but you’ll figure it all out eventually. And one day, this all won’t seem so scary to you.”
“I hope you’re right, because right now, I’m scared to death.”
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